Among the thousands of protesters who converged on Arizona recently to voice their opposition to the controversial immigration law, SB 1070, were more than 500 people from Los Angeles’ federation of labor, comprised of an assortment of union members and clergy.
The protests, dubbed a “national day of action” by immigration advocacy groups, inspired civil disobedience and calls for federal intervention across the nation. Black members of Los Angeles’ labor unions were among those who rode in an 11-bus caravan to Phoenix, where they then marched toward the state capital on July 29.
Thirty-two unions were represented in the caravan including teachers, teamsters, longshoremen, letter carriers and homecare workers. A separate bus was reserved for members of different church denominations.
“I got on a bus and went to Arizona because this law is a form of stereotyping,” said Service Employees International Union member and naturalized American citizen from Nigeria, Odunola Famutimi. “There’s no way you can tell someone’s illegal by just looking at them. I’m not apologizing for people who break the law, but leave people alone, who are just trying to make a living.”
A day before the protesters arrived, United States District Court Judge Susan Bolton, placed a temporary injunction on the law’s most controversial aspects. Bolton agreed with the Obama Administration, who filed suit against Arizona, that the state’s law may not be constitutionally compliant in some respects.
The injunction however, didn’t stymie the vigor of protesters opposed to the law. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) leader, Laphonza Butler, voiced these sentiments.
“Despite the judge’s ruling, working families from Los Angeles went to Arizona with the same energy and commitment to justice as the day before,” she said. “Without comprehensive immigration reform, other states can continue the same unjust antics as Arizona. Our participation was as much about Arizona, as it was a call for national reform.”
One of the provisions targeted for the injunction by Bolton was officers having the right while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status, if they have “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country illegally. The judge also placed an injunction on authorities having the power to verify the status of all arrested people before their release from jail.
Critics of the law say some of the wording is too vague and can lead to racial profiling. They also assert that immigrants, fearing potential deportation, would not cooperate with law enforcement and likely would be preyed upon by opportunistic criminals.
The potential racial profiling portions of the law have drawn the protest of many Blacks from around the nation. However, polls show that SB 1070 enjoys 55 to 70 percent support amongst voters-with Blacks constituting a significant portion of those who favor the law. Some believe African American support may stem from shifting demographics, in which an influx of immigrants and their children have utilized schools, hospitals and flooded an ever-shrinking labor market.
“I understand that this sentiment exists,” Butler said. “But we can’t let our emotions distract us from calling for justice. My response is that of history. SB 1070 is modern-day Jim Crow to America and a revised form of apartheid. I would remind others in the Black community that because we have been through this kind of attack, and lived (through this) kind of humiliation, that we have a duty to reject these kinds of laws.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer immediately filed an appeal against the injunction. The case will now head to the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for a hearing during the week of Nov. 1.
“We are a nation of laws, and we believe they need to be enforced,” Brewer said in a statement. “If the federal government wants to be in charge of illegal immigration and they want help from the states, it then needs to do its job.”
The U.S. Department of Justice countered in a statement that it agreed with Bolton’s decision and that while it was sympathetic to Arizona’s dilemma, “a patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement and would ultimately be counterproductive.”
A day after the injunction was imposed, Brewer relented a bit and said the Arizona legislature may slightly alter parts of SB 1070, when it convenes in January to discuss the judge’s concerns.
Brewer’s lawyer labeled some of the law’s language as “inartfully” written.
Famutimi, a long-term care worker, has lived in America for 20 years since emigrating from Nigeria. She then went on and became a naturalized citizen. Though Famutimi went through the formal process to become a citizen, she said the same opportunities that motivated her to come to the U.S., are the same ones that attract people from around the world.
“Everybody comes in pursuit of a better life for their children, there should be a way to help,” she said. “Let’s not criminalize working people and children who are just living their lives. My children were born here, and they have more opportunities. Thank God for America.”
Butler suggested that L.A. labor union protests in Arizona, were just the beginning.
“We are still planning our activities around the hearing, but our members are committed to national reform, and we plan to be present until that is achieved,” she said.